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Beauty and the Gym

January 15, 2011

First of all, I must apologize profusely for my recent silence.  It was mostly unintentional, but there have been some oddities that I’ve been forced to deal with until I have turned snarly in the face.  But I think it’s about time that I finally post something.

If you’re wondering about the title, yes, I am doing something that resembles a rip-off of Beauty and the Beast.  Except that in my life, the Gym is certainly not like the Beast from the story.  And definitely not like the one from Disney.  Because that is an amazing movie and the Gym is… not.  Very much not.  Amazing, that is.

I think every woman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and discussing exercise of any kind tend to shun gyms for one reason or another.  There’s all the usual reasons and excuses that you hear every single time and that we use every single time.  “I’m too out of shape to go to the gym,” “I only do such and such exercises while I’m there, and they don’t have anything for that,” “I don’t want anyone to see me there (which is an excuse I use to get out of going to a lot of things, and while a lot of people think it’s ineffective, I think it’s a perfectly legitimate excuse),” all of those.  But I think one of my roommates and I may have found one of the real reasons that we struggle to go to the gym.

Everyone there is a little too beautiful.

I realize that’s not always the case.  Going to the gym at five in the morning to go work out before classes or work, you run into some people there that are not what we always classify as being “beautiful.”  There’s the cranky middle-aged woman that takes the weight-lifting machine that you were just considering using but you don’t dare confront her because you’ve seen her put it onto the highest setting and because she’s currently glaring at you and that’s generally a good time to turn away and work on something else.  Like the exercise you were just doing.  That’ll work.  Or there’s the eighty year old man with a paunch and scrawny looking legs running on the track that still manages to lap you six times in the half hour that you’re brave enough to run on the same track as him.

Well, there’s the other motive for staying away from the gym.  It’s just humiliating.  But back to motive one.

I actually went to the gym a few days ago.  A few days being the beginning of the week.  Why?  Because they have a rock-climbing wall there.  And because I had friends there who were all going rock-climbing.  And in spite of my pitifully small stature and ridiculously short arms, I enjoy rock-climbing a lot.

But the gym at my school is a little daunting.  Rock climbing doesn’t require gym clothes, and so I came walking into the gym with my jacket and messenger bag still on and a pair of rented climbing shoes in hand.  And then I began the long walk down the rows of people on exercise machines to the rock wall, which of course is conveniently located on the other side of the gym.  Which gave me a very good opportunity to look at all the people in the gym.

All of the men are wearing white tee-shirts and black shorts, and if they’re not built, they’re ripped.  There’s not enough fat on any of them for them to float if they’re treading water.  And they’re all lifting and running and flexing.  I decided not to look at any of them for too long.

All of the women are also wearing white tee-shirts and black shorts or pants with their hair tied up, riding exercise bikes next to three other girls gossipping about their collective lives, or else they’re working out near their boyfriends, or else they’re running on their own with an iPod or the equivalent strapped to their arm.  And their tee-shirts are never baggy like how mine are, and obviously they’re wearing some pretty expensive shorts because they’re certainly not as baggy as mine are either.  Their tennis shoes are very new and white and shiny, and I swear they make their legs look even prettier.  And yes, they really are very beautiful.  I don’t want to downplay that in any way.

My problem is that I will always be comparing myself with these women who are all at least six inches taller than me and, to my mind, suddenly infinitely more attractive than I am, just because they can ride an exercise bike for however long and gossip with their friends when I don’t think I have the energy for either.

But I think I just realized the problem with that.

Yes, I can remember what their bodies look like.  Well enough to be plenty jealous.  But for the life of me I cannot remember a single face from that gym.  Nothing distinctive comes to me.  Nothing from a pair of gorgeous eyes to a pointed nose.  No one with acne, no one with freckles, no one sweating, no one with a pretty smile or a painfully contagious laugh.  Nothing that makes them different than anyone else in that gym.

You know what I think?

I think we look in all the wrong places for beauty.  We look for something physical, something so obvious that we can’t see past it and probably never will.  And you know why we will never see past it?  Because we will never want to.  We see what we want to see in that first shallow layer.  We will not bother to strip it away and see the beauty that lies underneath.  We may never be able to see the person.  Just the body that they occupy.

I guess maybe there’s a reason that my gym clothes are baggy on me and why I sweat profusely when I’m trying to run laps, and why my hair turns from flowing to pasted to the top of my head.

Maybe it’s because it gives me a chance to see people with pointed noses and gorgeous eyes and acne and freckles and pretty smiles and contagious laughter.  Physically, I’m not really a beauty.  I battle with myself over it on a regular basis, physically and mentally.  And what woman out there doesn’t?  But it makes it so that I can learn to see past that in other people.  I get to see something else that few people will ever bother to see.  Which let me tell you, is completely their loss.  You know why I say that so many guys are idiots?  Because there are all of these wonderful, gorgeous women out there in the world, and so many guys will never see it. 

I certainly don’t mean to speak disparagingly about gyms.  I appreciate the whole thing about how they’re meant to help us become more fit and healthy and all of that good stuff.  And it is good stuff.  (Speaking disparagingly about guys, that I might be doing on purpose.  Just a little bit.)

But gyms go back to the ancient Greeks, and the reason that they were called gymnasiums is because they were where men would exercise naked.  Just so that all the other men could see how great their bodies were and humiliate them into working out just as hard to have just as good of a body.  Thank goodness women didn’t have to deal with that kind of humiliation.  They only had gyms for women in Sparta, and thankfully they wore clothes there.  (Yes, I study history.  What gave it away?)

But I guess I have a very different challenge from anything you would find in a gym.

1)  If you know any women that really loves to workout, let me know.  I want to meet her.  Maybe I can go work out with her and be infected by her enthusiasm.

2)  Look for the beauty beneath the surface in other people.  If you haven’t already, you’ll be amazed.

3)  Find a little bit of that beauty in yourself.  And yes, this applies to YOU!  Whether you’re male or female, young, old, no matter WHAT your circumstances may be.  You’ll be stunned at what you find.

Hey, every single human being out in the world is the most beautiful person on earth.  We just have to see it.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2011 1:00 am

    i love this so much! 🙂 also, i don’t exactly “love to work out,” but i am making movement more a part of my life – or trying anyway. i love listening to music and reading, and walking on the treadmill gives me a good excuse to do both at once and NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT. 😀

  2. January 15, 2011 9:09 am

    Enjoyed this!

    I know a girl who is ‘addicted’ to the gym. She loves it. Apparently if you do anything for 21 days straight, your body gets really used to it. I of course, have never managed 21 days. I havent even manage 3 days straight. But this girl has and she’s a complete gym junkie!

    Not fair!

  3. Rivenheart permalink
    January 15, 2011 3:42 pm

    *Whimper* 21 days? That sounds… exhausting.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like exercise. I like walking, I like playing some sports (aka, Ultimate Frisbee and Paintball), I like doing some of the more extreme sports, I like dancing. And of course I use all of the above to justify not ever going to a gym.

    But serious points for multi-tasking by reading, listening to music, and walking all at the same time!! I love it!!!

    Gyms are scary places. 😉

  4. January 16, 2011 9:17 am

    How beautifully put. In a way, wanting to find and appreciate the hidden beauty in humans is why I write. Because I get to present a character to my readers and gradually teach them to see that beauty, see what’s really important – bravery, kindness, intelligence, integrity, self-sacrifice. Those things are what make humans beautiful.

    And I’ve only ever been to the gym once. NEVAH AGAIN. I do like hiking and swimming, though.

  5. Kaimalino permalink
    January 17, 2011 1:33 am

    What’s with all the gym-hate?
    I have to put in a word to defend it.
    I love the gym, I really do. And without bagging on motherhood or any of the attached responsibilities (which I love even more than the gym, I promise) let me just say that it is a beautiful, bee-yoooo-tiful thing to be in a place where I am only myself and I am not in charge of anyone else and I can engage in symmetrical movement without anyone riding on my hip, just for an hour a day. I am strong and getting stronger, and I am (for once) NOT multi-tasking. It’s a window of relief.

    I have a treadmill in my basement; it’s not as good as the one at the gym because in my basement I am still in an environment of total responsibility and interruption is inevitable. I also have weights in my basement. They are also inferior to the weights at the gym.
    I love love love being part of the “Morning Club” at the gym, an unofficial group with a tacit understanding that come February, all these resolute rookies will be asleep at home and we will still be there at 6 a.m., parking in the good spots again and getting our sweat on before the day even begins. We smile, nod, crack work-out jokes at each other, worry when we don’t see someone for awhile. We’re not close friends, but we are connected. It’s a community, and a lot of the stereotypes I assumed several years ago have been disproven by becoming part of that community. People are cool, and yes, beautiful, but in many invisible ways.

    You can’t just show up and be part of the regular crew; you have to show up again and again and again. There’s very little airhead/meat-market action going on at the crack of dawn. That’s for the after-work shift. The morning is for those of us who have real lives we need to be fit enough to handle.
    I am exponentially nicer human when I’ve had a good run. Endorphins are real, and I need a shot of them to be a fun mom.
    I am 100 percent in favor of appreciating inner beauty. As a gym regular, I can say that I see inner beauty more clearly than ever– I appreciate the awesome physiques, sure, but what I really understand and appreciate is the tenacity it took to get there.
    When you know stories, people are even MORE beautiful, like the woman who blew out her knee skiing last year but is getting ready for the marathon this year. She is a thousand kinds of awesome, but she’s no fashion model. Psssh, who wants to be a model when they could be awesome? It’s really not what you look like, it’s what you’re made of.
    People can get their shot of endorphins in a lot of healthy places. For me, in my season of life, I just can’t get them in a concentrated dose anywhere but the gym.

    (And Rivenheart, I can help with #1. Next time you’re up this way, bring your sneakers and plan to spend the night!)

  6. January 17, 2011 7:53 pm

    Great piece! I used to work out in a gym, until (1) Like you I felt intimidated and unbeautiful (hope I’m not over-interpreting here), (2) I realized I was doing the same things there I could do at home and (3) I decided I wasn’t going often enough to justify the monthly fee.

    Even living in the Pacific Northwest, where you can’t be sure the rain will stop long enough for you to take a 5-minute walk, you can do *some* things without going to a gym.

    So that’s what I’m trying to do. Not completely successfully, but working on it. I miss the gym, though.

  7. January 18, 2011 2:11 pm

    It took me 3 rounds of kid interruptions but I finally read this and I’m SO GLAD. I love it! I know a lot of people who feel they’re not pretty or in shape enough to go to the gym. I prefer the woods any day, but that’s just me.

    I have to put a word in for the boys. I’m married to one who can see the beauty in me though I’m not typically beautiful (what does that even mean?)—I’m certainly not “gym-worthy”—and I know others who love women (and women who love men) who will never be on a gym-ad. That’s all. 🙂 Back to your man-hating… I totally understand. I’m a reformed man-hater, after all.

  8. January 31, 2011 8:02 pm

    I haven’t gone to a gym before, and I’m too intimidated to go. I work out with Jillian Micheals at home. But I agree that we look for beauty in the wrong places. Our definition of beauty is all wrong and superficial. True beauty is hard to find.

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